Swimming Training Camps

By David

An important element in any democracy is the protected right to question those who lead. Governments and their bureaucracies need to be accountable. When representatives spend tax payer’s money on hotel video porn it is appropriate for them to be asked to explain. That is not dissent. It is not even unreasonable. It is good government.

With this in mind it is appropriate to question a report published this week on the New Zealand swim team’s trip to the Mare Nostrum Barcelona and Canet meets and an eleven day training camp after the competition. There is much in the report that is difficult to understand. We will not print the whole thing here. It’s a bit long for that, but we will reproduce those points that raise puzzling questions. Questioning the tour’s report should not be mistaken as a criticism of the athletes involved. Swimwatch is on record as supporting fine performances by these swimmers at World Cups and New Zealand Championships. Our concern is what they were asked to do and not how they did it.

From the outset it was difficult to understand the purpose of the trip. Early in the tour a separate report began its coverage with:

“They have just stepped off the plane after 36 hours flying to Barcelona from New Zealand 24 hours previously, are still in heavy training. [sic]”

That has always seemed strange to me. Why would you spend $30,000 or $40,000 flying a team to the other side of the world to race the planet’s best athletes and own up to being badly prepared – arriving late and still in heavy training? If it’s worth the cost of flying to Spain to find good competition it seems important to arrive in a fit condition to race properly. Presumably that’s why you find good competition – to race them properly. It’s difficult to find a meet these days when the New Zealand team is not “still in heavy training”. It leaves the impression of preparing an excuse ahead of time should things go wrong at the meet. Or perhaps it’s true; rest for New Zealand swimmers is restricted to once every two years; to the week before a Commonwealth or Olympic Games.

The Mare Nostrum series involves three meets; one each in Monte Carlo, Canet and Barcelona. On this trip the New Zealand team skipped the one in Monte Carlo. That doesn’t seem like good economics; to fly all that way and only swim in two of the three meets. Doing all three gives 33% more racing for maybe 6% more cost; at least that’s the way it worked out the four times I’ve done these meets. Similarly why were the team taken to Narbonne for their training camp. There is nothing wrong with Narbonne. It’s a nice town with a good pool. But the New Zealand team had just finished racing down the road in Canet which is a nicer town, a better pool, has far cheaper accommodation and the team was already there. The last time I was in Canet, in 2009, we rented a lovely French villa for four swimmers for $1000 for the entire week. I bet Narbonne cost New Zealand more than that.

I notice the report on the trip says the swimmers were put through a “punishing training regime.” We are told “they worked their tails off for two weeks in France.” The report then defines the “punishing training regime” as “130kms of training in the 11 days in Narbonne with three training sessions a day.” I struggle to understand how swimming 130 kilometers in 11 days; that’s a rate of only 82 kilometers a week, qualifies as punishing; not when 90 to 100 kilometers a week is the standard training fare for just about every swimmer New Zealand is about to race in the Pan Pacific Games. At three sessions a day the New Zealander’s average training distance was something less than 4000 meters a session which stretches the definition of “punishing” just a bit.

The Nation’s best swimmers got through their 82 kilometer week, we are told, because:

“We trained outdoors in an excellent facility so it was pretty pleasant. We would have struggled to achieve the same level of performance with this sort of training block at home.”

What on earth is the matter with that Millennium Pool? Before Prime Minister John Key invests $40million upgrading the facility someone should tell him that New Zealand’s best swimmers find swimming 80 kilometers a week in the current 50 meter pool a real struggle. I’ve seen 100 kilometers a week swum many times in the Clive Pool in Hawkes Bay, in the Swimgym Pool in Hastings, in a four lane pool in the US Virgin Islands, in the Onekawa Aquatic Center in Napier, in the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre, in an open air pool in Florida and in the Freyberg Pool in Wellington. The Clive Pool is unventilated (unless someone leaves the doors open), has almost no lighting and no windows. It could handle someone swimming 20 kilometers a week further than the New Zealand team managed in France. God knows what problems must exist at the Millennium Institute Pool to make a very modest weekly mileage of 80 kilometers such a struggle.

The report concludes with a look into the future. “Our main emphasis will be the Commonwealth Games. Pan Pacs will be a tougher level meet and we will be looking to swim fast there. If you don’t swim fast in the morning heat you don’t get a second swim.” That’s another thing I’ve never really understood. If winning at the London Olympics is New Zealand Swimming’s primary goal, why on earth choose the easy meet now as the center of your attention. Clearly Pan Pacs is recognized as the tougher meet. In that case and if you are at all serious about winning anything in London that’s the meet you should be chasing. After all, that’s the meet where Burmester needs to beat Phelps and Thomas needs to finish ahead of Couglin. But, no, New Zealand’s “main emphasis” is the easy option. That seldom wins an Olympic Games.